18 February, 2020

A Future-Proof Polyvalent Touring Bike with Downtube Shifters

by Igor

This Polyvalent build was a lot of fun. I think this is the quintessential touring bike that straddles old and new, practical and elegant, modern and timeless. There isn't anything particularly special about it, but that's the beauty of this composition. It just works and will be dependable for years and years to come.

Let's begin at the drivetrain and gears. Touring bikes should be geared properly because you're either going to be doing a lot of walking or a lot of coasting. Basically, your setup should be wide enough that you can climb most any hill, but also tall enough that you aren't really running out of gear. So while 1x drivetrains definitely have their place in the bikepacking and mountain biking world, I think in traditional touring and Sport Touring, the 2x compact/subcompact really is king.

Most recently, I've been working on builds that are fairly complicated. Well, not as complex as triathlon and full suspension bikes, but still they feature hydraulic brakes, integrated shifters, cables and hoses running every which way. Narrower 11 and 12 speed cassette spacing means your cable tension, derailleur hanger, and limit screws must be perfect, and your front derailleur needs to be perfectly aligned, so your shifting is perfect. The Microshift 9 speed Advent Rear Derailleur is a breath of fresh air. It's easy to set up and the clutch is really a bonus to navigate the rough stuff.

The front derailleur doesn't have the most elegant cable routing but it is very functional and it shifts well. Additionally, the curvature of the cage is the perfect match for our 50.4 46/30t Crankset, so it really looks buttoned up.

11sp Dia-Compe Downtube Shifters pull the derailleurs around. Shifting is clean and easy. I had almost forgotten how much I like good downtube shifter setups. While I could have gone for the regular (non 11sp) version, I may go to 11sp or 10sp Shimano in the future. Interestingly enough, if you want to talk future-proofing, these downtube shifters are gold. They work with every 10 and 11sp rear derailleur.

The cockpit is our Nouveau Randonneur Bars and the brake levers are an aero offering from Shimano. I have always been a fan of these. The profile is slender, medium amount of hood length, great lever throw, and they do not overwhelm the appearance of the front end of the bike.

The tape is a sample. It has a nice texture and thickness, but I'm a bit skeptical of its longevity. We have two other samples we're currently testing that we really, really like. Stay tuned.

A Removable Faceplate Quill Stem secures the handlebars to the threaded fork.

Braking is handled by my favorite mechanical brakes, the TRP Spyres. They are super easy to set up and braking power is great once the pads are bedded in.

Clean, internal routing for the rear brake.

The Polyvalent prefers a front-bias, so a Campeur Front Rack handles the load of both a Randonneur Handlebar Bag and panniers. Be sure to check out this blog post I wrote a while ago about Front Loading Basics if you're front-load curious.

The front fender is mounted directly to the underside of the front rack so that the fender is secure over washboard trails.

The wheelset is our 26" Voyager Rims laced to our Disc Touring Hubs. They're all wrapped up in Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass 26x2.3" Tires. While the tires are exceptionally smooth over gravel and are lightweight, we find they need to be set up tubeless for durability. 

When setting them up with Orange Seal (our preferred sealant) you'll likely need to use a lot more sealant than you think since the sidewalls will both weep and absorb a lot of sealant. I think I ended up using about 7 oz of sealant per tire to have a reserve of sealant inside. As a reference, a 26" mtb tire needs about 3oz. The cost of suppleness.

The Day Tripper Saddle Bag houses all of my tools, tube, and repair bits and bobs I may need out on the trail. By the way, the next round of Day Trippers will have new YKK buckles (not pictured) that will be easier to open and close when using bulky gloves.

And the Randonneur Handlebar Bag is convenient for quick access to my camera, snacks, extra layers, and the like.

Lastly, the fenders are our 650b Smooth in Polished Silver which also have a great radius for these tires.

Can't wait to take this thing out on some Sporty Tours this season! You can find the full and complete build list here, and if you're interested in having us build up something similar, check out our Bike Build Ideas and give us a shout!


Morlamweb said...

Very nice build! It's good to see new steel-framed bikes with a level top tube and 26 in wheels. It's rather like my own vintage MTB-turned-commuter albeit with disc brakes and drop bars.

Anonymous said...

7 oz of sealant per tire?!

VeloOrange said...


Yes, approximately. The tires absorbed a lot of the sealant.


ants said...

How stiff is the front derailleur spring? I'm currently running Dia Compe Ene wing shifters and the XT 10-speed front I have currently is overwhelming the rachet unless I tension the frick out of it. Which then immediately comes loose the next shift.

VeloOrange said...


Not sure how to compare the two, but I haven't noticed any shifting issues on the front.


Big Woods Biker said...

Ants, I had the same problem with Rivendell Silver shifters (made by Dia Compe). I added an extra washer to the inside of the lever and all is well.

Unknown said...

How I love this bike. It's like going back in time .in a nice way

Anonymous said...

What frame size is pictured?, 54?

VeloOrange said...

@ Anon That is a 57 cm frame


V. in NYC said...

I love the new black paint. The only deal breaker for me is, like with all other VO framesets, the lack of downtube dynamo wiring holes. For this reason alone, I seem to be forever confined to finding vintage Centurion Pro Tour 15s, Specialized Expeditions, etc, on eBay.
The day you guys make a version of this with down tube dynamo wiring I’ll buy the very first to come out of the factory.

Mark Drury said...

I love everything about this frame except the wheel size--if it took a 700c wheel I'd order one tomorrow....

Mark D.

clau66 said...

Is the 11s friction lever indispensable?
Or will the Silver or Ene levers also work with Advent 9v?

VeloOrange said...


The regular Ene shifters would likely work in this setup, but I am thinking about going to 11sp mtb in the future, and these 11sp model with the larger barrel is better.


clau66 said...

I love friction levers as a "bar end".
The lever from 11s seems to me to be put only on the downtube. Quite right?

VeloOrange said...


Yes, the right shifter's barrel is only able to mounted to the downtube as opposed to thumbie or bar ends.


Horrible Old Man said...

That’s definitely an anomaly. My Rat Traps used about 6oz total.

Anonymous said...

I really like this build and have been eyeing the Polyvalent frame for a few years now. However, I think I'm going to wait for the next iteration to see what's new. As I'm frame shopping, I'm looking for something with a similar geometry but with thru-axles and internal dynamo wiring. While I'd prefer 1 1/8, 1" threaded isn't a dealbreaker.

Anonymous said...

I agree, this frame with thru axles and possibly dynamo wiring would be absolutely perfect!

Julien said...

Very nice build. I like the future proof commment. It is very similar to my 1983 Cyclocamping bike I used to cross the USA in 1985. Almost the same geometry, same 1" steel fork with a nice rake, same low rider carriers (I have both front and rear,mine were hand build copying a Rene Herse design). Mine was made converting a 1970's ten speed (2x5) to 650Bx38. The only two significant differences are the 650B instead of 26" (amusingly I almost had to convert it to 26" 15 years ago because I could not find any 650B tires anymore then...) and the Mafac Cantilevers instead of the mechanical disks... Good choices are long-lived...

Ray Day said...

With disc brakes yoy canupsuze your wheel. Check out Morgan Taylor's Polyvalent up on the Radavist, it has 700x43 tires on it.

Blake Manfre said...

What width are those Randonneur bars?

VeloOrange said...

@ Blake- Those are the 46 cm wide bars